Written by the Good Health team.
Insomnia - It’s a catch-22 situation. Sleep (or lack of it as the case usually is) and anxiety seesaw. Anxiety leads to a lack of sleep and lack of sleep inevitably causes tension and stress that, over time, can develop into anxiety.
There's a plethora of ‘stress relievers’ on offer to the stressed insomniac, ranging from a regular Hawaiian massage to tai chi or yoga. The reality is that any solutions for resolving and diminishing anxiety and sleep disorders are most effective when tailor-made to the individual; and often filling our spare time with classes that involve having to be at a specific place on time (enter traffic woes and babysitters for kids) only adds to our daily stresses and feeds the anxiety cycle.
Insomnia affects about 30-40 percent of the general population and chronic insomnia is roughly 10 to 15 percent. Women are affected on a ratio of 2-to-1 compared to men, and it does appear to increase with age. Sometimes, though, it's just an inability to unwind before bedtime that keeps people awake. The boomer lifestyle, with late working hours, the kids involved in school activities or extra-curricular activities late into the night keep the parents over-stimulated and without time to relax in the evening.
The naturopathic approach to sleeping problems looks at overall lifestyle, diet and health issues that may be adversely affecting an individual’s well being. Treating the nervous system with relaxing and tonic herbs, cutting back on stimulants such as caffeine, coke, cigarettes and alcohol are all changes that often lift weight off a person’s shoulders and empower them to make some small changes that have a huge positive impact in their lives.
Effective herbs utilised by naturopaths and herbalists include Passion flower, Jamaican dogwood, Panax notoginseng, Zizyphus and Californian poppy. These herbs nourish and relax our nervous system with their mild sedative and calming actions. The balancing action of herbs works gently over time to normalise the nervous system and assist regular sleeping patterns. When used daily, these relaxing herbal combinations help restore balance and calm to a tired body, and peace and harmony to a frazzled mind.
Another nutrient for assisting mood support is 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), a plant sourced from the seed of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant. 5-HTP is the precursor to our feel-good hormone Serotonin. Serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood, sleep, pain and appetite. Low levels have been implicated in depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches and eating disorders. The body also converts serotonin into melatonin, a brain hormone that is involved in sleep and mood regulation.
Here are our top 10 tips we recommend to help get a better nights sleep…
1. Go to bed only when you are sleepy, not at a predetermined time.
2. Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise performed 4-6 hours before your desired bedtime may help you fall asleep. Exercise done early will have no effect on your sleep. Exercise done closer to your desired bedtime may cause difficulty falling asleep.
3. Using earplugs can take some getting used to, however many insomnia sufferers have found earplugs very effective in avoiding the unfortunate incident of being waken up after finally managing to fall asleep.
4. Try to avoid daytime napping as this may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
5. If you can't fall asleep, don't stay in bed and “try harder to fall asleep." GET OUT OF BED and do something relaxing until you are sleepy and ready to fall asleep.
6. If you tend to watch the clock, turn it around so you can't see it. You may leave it in the room for its alarm function, but do not watch the hand of the clock go around.
7. Any sort of bedtime ritual that will help you relax is to be encouraged. Such activities should be performed in a room other than the bedroom. Examples include, but are not limited to reading, watching TV, meditation, a warm bath or drinking a glass of milk.
8. Play some soft, soothing music that will lull you to sleep. There are many CDs designed for that very purpose. Some are specially composed music; others simply have sounds of waves rhythmically breaking, or the steady pattern of a heartbeat. Some will lead you to sleep with a combination of music, voice and other soothing sounds.
9. Add white noise. For many people, noise that is steady and not easily identifiable is easier to tune out than the sound of snoring, the rumble of traffic, or the musical stylings of the amateur trumpet player who lives next door. For others, total silence is disturbing. White-noise machines emit a steady whirring or purring sound, similar to the sound of wind rustling through leaves, which provides a welcome distraction for both these problems.
10. Learn to relax. You can't run a crazy life and expect to just unplug your mind when you slip into bed. Listing the stresses of the day or days to come and working out a plan to deal with them can put your mind at ease.
Good Health is a proudly New Zealand operated business, started over a quarter of a century ago by John Blanchard. At Good Health, we understand how the power of nature can boost your body’s natural immunity and support systems, enhancing your health and vitality.